I read up a decent amount on conditioning in growlers before attempting it. I wanted to share my experience and see if others had had similar experiences.
The thinking, of course, is to minimize bottle-washing. From my research, the dangers were:
- Large serving size
- Poor carbonation
- Bottle integrity, namely, the bottom falling out
I figured all of these could be mitigated through selection of the right beer. For instance, an English bitter has low gravity and low carbonation, and is conducive to a large serving size. One growler would fill three imperial pints handily, then be done.
I used high-quality growlers from a local beer specialty store, and bottled half a batch in five growlers, the remainder in 22 oz bottles. Here's the good:
- The carbonation was right, although a little less in the growlers than in the 22's. Actually, the growler beer is closer to an English bitter's level of carbonation than the 22's, which is a bit too lively.
- The taste is fine.
- The growlers held up well. I kept them in a tub so as to minimize the destruction possible with a 64 oz failure. I can't say that they'll be reliable batch after batch, but they worked just fine.
Here's the bad... Really just a quibble, but it might scuttle this effort for me:
- Growlers are fatter for the same height. That means that when you're pouring that third pint, you're going to get a cloudy, yeasty beer. The larger surface area on the bottom makes for a thinner, less cohesive yeast cake from conditioning, plus more "wash-off" as the final beer drains off the yeast cake. To add to that, your third pint is made up mostly of the bottom two inches of the bottle, where all the yeast is anyway. This works if you've got two friends over and you don't like one of them very much, but if you want to be hospitable, it means you need to bite the bullet and take the murky pint.
I could see brewing a different beer, like an intentionally cloudy wheat beer into growlers to mitigate this, but those beers classically require a higher level of carbonation, which would endanger the bottles, so I'm not willing to go there.
This worked out far better than people told me it would, but it's not what I'd call an unqualified success.
It's over a year later and I never really revisited carbonating in growlers since that first experiment. I now have moved on to kegging and never looked back. For people who keg their beer, there is still one very good use case for conditioning in growlers: overshooting the batch volume.
I have a mark on my primaries that will tell me exactly how much to fill in order to fit the results into a Corny keg (if racking right to keg). Sometimes I overshoot the mark. In these cases, when racking from 6 gallon primary to 5 gallon secondary or keg, I'll throw 4-5 Coopers Carbonation Drops into a sanitized growler, rack half a gallon into the growler, cap it, repeat if necessary, then proceed as usual. No beer is wasted.
But even then, a 2L soda bottle and a carbonator cap are far better than bottle conditioning.